Huntington city leaders respond to unprecedented overdose rates

Several Huntington departments respond to a rash of overdoses Monday. (WCHS/WVAH)

Twenty-six near death experiences Monday were all caused by heroin overdoses in Huntington.On Tuesday, a board of city leaders said the rash of overdoses began at a home on Sycamore Street, where seven people overdosed inside and outside of a home on the 100 block of Sycamore Street."People are coming here and dying. That was the exact quote from dispatchers across the radio," said Huntington Police Chief Joe Ciccarelli.Ciccarelli repeated the radio call at a joint meeting of city leaders including the Drug Policy Council, fire department, health department and other leaders in the fight against drug abuse.Ciccarelli said the heroin could have been more pure, or cut with something new. One possible mix could have been a cut including a powerful sedative called Carfentanil. The sedative is normally used to sedate elephants."There is no such thing as good heroin, or bad heroin. It's all deadly," Ciccarelli said, trying to dispel thoughts that this batch could be worse than the heroin that normally circulates in Huntington.He said 26 is a remarkable number of overdoses in a three-hour period, but overdoses are nothing new in the River City. According to numbers released by the city Tuesday, overdoses this year in Cabell County are sitting at 440. That is up from 413 this same time last year."We anticipated it," Drug Policy Council Director Jim Johnson said, "We hoped it didn't happen, but it wasn't a surprise that overdoses are up."Johnson said their plan to fight the drug epidemic -- through prevention, treatment and law enforcement -- will take more time. He said one small victory was that no one died during Monday's rash of overdoses, and overdose death rates have fallen from last year."There was a son, there was a daughter, a mother, a father who didn't die yesterday," Johnson said.Ciccarelli said the fight against drugs can be incredibly taxing for first responders, especially when overdose rates hit the same they did Monday. "When someone wants to know why it takes two hours for a police officer to respond to a routine call, this is why," Ciccarelli said. "The 26 people who overdosed yesterday, with exception of one that's on a ventilator over at St. Mary's Hospital, are out shooting up again today."
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